Two men and a bulldog showed up unannounced at Caitlin Strickland’s after-school job on a Friday afternoon.

Admissions officers are traveling hundreds of miles with a live animal to inform high-school seniors they have been accepted to a college—and to urge them to enroll. It’s not just the star athletes or scholarship winners who get the treatment. It is pretty much anyone, a tactic driven by competition to snag the declining number of college-bound high-school students.

I would have brought a schnauzer:

Trip [the bulldog] is “not generally a heavy drooler unless there is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich nearby and then he drools like crazy,” said Michael Kaltenmark, his handler and the school’s director of external relations. “Unless someone is actively making dinner in front of him he’s going to be fine.”

Trip’ silver collar is valued at $10,000, bring on the direct instruction.

That is from Douglas Belkin at the WSJ, courtesy of the excellent Samir Varma.


It's a funny stunt, but why?

The average marketing budget as per cent of total company for education is 11%. 2 guys driving around a bulldog for selfies should not be that expensive when compared to college sports, TV, internet, etc. One interesting question is how much is an acceptable marketing budget for education? 4% as energy or 24% as consumer packaged goods?

Graduate students were about to get a tax hike a couple months ago. Stunts like this kill the empathy of the average taxpayer for students. If a non-profit behaves like a for-profit organization, it's completely normal that people start questioning their tax-exempt status.

What do you think it's a good marketing budget as total company budget for education?

If education is not signaling, then any amount spent on advertising is a good return to society (aka "public good"). If, as I suspect is the case, as does Bryan Caplan, that education is signaling, then you're right, this is a waste of money.

Public good, nonprofit........if Against Malaria Foundation or Give DIrectly spend 50% on overhead, donors will not be happy. What if universities where assessed and ranked by GiveWell?

Qhat if attracts even more funding and moe money goes to mosquito nets and the other things?

It is only worthwhile if it increases total human capital.

Let me add that one of the things to think about is does the marketing get people to go to college more or just make them more likely to go to x college?

This is the right way to look at it. Universities are often public but never without self-interest. Certainly some effort (or percentage of budget) for self-perpetuation is reasonable. Even if trips with dogs might be a bit silly.

The new Gates letter has a lot to say about getting improvement in US education.

Reading between the lines, Gates is saying that districts don't track teacher effectiveness because tracking is an extra expense. That makes sense, right? There would be an understandable desire to get every dollar "into the classroom" but tracking is "bureaucracy."

(We've talked about the 13k school districts in the US. Gates views them, quite sensibly, as small and local value networks. They are the only ones who can make change, or not.)

"They are the only ones who can make change, or not"

100% wrong. They will never make a change because they don't have the incentive or the expertise. Only private competition or higher levels of government can make the necessary change.

lol yeah sure, they hate spending on bureaucracy. That's why bureaucratic spending has been skyrocketing over the last 20 years. I'm sure it's not just an excuse.

If you read the letter you will see that some embrace change more than others. That is something we should expect, given the nature small and local value networks.

For what it's worth, I these few words signal that you are not quite looking at the world in all its complexity:

"100% wrong. They will never"

She's African American. (Quick Google search.) She's also pretty and a good student, but I'm betting on African American being the deciding factor.

Any student dumb enough to make an important life choice because of a cute dog is too dumb to go to college.

Any college administrator who thinks this is a sensible way to raise a college's profile has no idea what the actual business of an academic institution is and is too stupid to be employed in Higher Education.

The further I move away from my student experience, the less I can think of any good reason to spend a cent on anything but teaching and research. Cut everything else. If students want a chai latte or a gym, tell them to go off campus and pay for it themselves.

But social scientists say that the 'value add' of higher education is not so much R&D, as you suppose, or the knowledge learned, but the social networks formed by the students there, at the student union or gym or on-campus Starbucks.

I actually agree with that. Most of what is taught at universities is a waste of time and much of the value is in networking.

So stick four of them in a single dormitory room. They will continue to make friends even if they have to go off campus for a coffee.

I don't agree with SMFS's bluntness but he's right.

The prefabricated networking activities organized by the college are deemed as low status. Yeah, cute dog or team mascot but we humans love things not everyone can have (i.e. rich: you can't pay it) or understand (i.e. geek: you don't get whatever is in vogue ). Losers go unironically to enjoy the football game, interesting people do something else.

That's sad. To "ironically" enjoy the game is only partial enlightenment.

I don't think there's any evidence, anecdotal or sociological, that networking is an important benefit of undergraduate education. It's credentialing, not networking, that matters. Does anyone here have important professional contacts formed at college? For those who go into academia, graduate school contacts are important. For those who go to professional school, the contacts formed during the early working years are important.

For myself, as an attorney, there is a lifelong benefit to having "Yale" on the resume. It means that your resume always gets looked at. But there are only 30 or 40 people (in my case, general counsels at local banks) who can send me legal work, and not one of them was at college with me.

@y81 - you speak from a US perspective but in Japan and Korea it's what I said. As for "Yale" on the resume, you presumably know how to act like a Yalie, or an Ivy League-r, to clients, which is something you picked up networking at the Skull & Bones or whatever social network of choice you frequented while in Yale.

"Does anyone here have important professional contacts formed at college?" I once turned to a good friend from undergraduate days for advice about a patent application.

So, no

At the age of 63 I still work with some of my undergraduate University of Chicago classmates.

How much of the 'value add' is for the student, and how much for society. I suspect it is primarily the former.

With the exception of community and maybe some commuter colleges, schools that completely cut funding for the fancy cafeteria, the new gym and the cushy lounge would quickly become uncompetitive. Any college administrator that takes such a step is too stupid to be employed in education. Inane suggestion.

No one would go to Yale if it wasn't for the emotional support animals and heated swimming pools?

Fine, cancel the animals but you're proposing a no amenities environment. That would decimate enrollment for non-commuter institutions. The administrator who did it would be fired and they'd deserve it.

"Fine, cancel the animals..."

Yeah. In the 1940s, UChicago famously dispensed with "football, fraternities, and fun" and promptly disappeared into the dustbin of history.

It is different. Chicago was under the inspiring and crazy leadership of Robert Maynard Hutchins, who was an avowed enemy of fun and physical activities and a firm defender of a liberal education. Also, Chicago was flying high at the wings of its success at atomic energy (Pile-1, Fermi and all that).
Compare with Harvard. In the early 20th Century, Harvard man Boris Sidis had already scientifically proved football was ba for education. Has Harvard dropped football?

There are a LOT of students who refuse to go to U of Chicago because of its particular "brand." I guess they can gather some of the smart kids, but most of the rest prefer to go elsewhere, because U of C kids are seen as uniquely boring.

Lol, U of Chicago has a ton of the same "extra" crap other schools do.

They don't have football, though. Northwestern not only has football, it is a Big 10 school. It's also has the "correct" ideology, and is in a much, much nicer neighborhood. I suspect this is part of why my high school sent so many graduates to Northwestern, and almost none to U of C. Though, yes, U of C is harder to get into NOW, this wasn't the case when I graduated back in the mid-aughts

> "... too stupid to be employed in Higher Education"

It is almost impossible to be too stupid to be employed in Higher Education. As long as you are woke and silly enough, we can always find room for you.

"Any student dumb enough to make an important life choice because of a cute dog is too dumb to go to college."

Those of us not too far "on the spectrum" might see a gambit for social acceptance and inclusion.

That is always good marketing. Buy the world a Coke(tm).

But the Chicago has football! Ok, so it is division 3, but they recruit the whole roster. No walk-ons. Which, as a Chicago alum, I find disappointing. If you're going to eschew football, eschew football. And if you're going to have division 3 anything, you should leave room for walk-ons.

My Chicago football story is that I taught my ex-girlfriend how to throw a football at aoving target. She was the tallest girl on her dorm IM team and so she was the quarterback. It worked well enough, I got her to throw where I was running to, not where I was.

But what do I know, I'm that special kind of boring. I liked the where fun goes to die t-shirts, and if would have bought one if my money wasn't being spent on books.

*a moving. And this apparently was appended as a reply to the wrong comment. Blame my phome.

What appeals to high school seniors seems to vary from year to year. It wasn't many years ago that schools were appealing to high school seniors with luxury dormitories. More recently it was the promise of not having to attend classes. One state university in the South appeals to high school seniors with its highly rated athletic programs. Yes, it's true, many high school seniors choose college based on its football or basketball team. My nephew, a college junior, chose a large state university over the small private college I favored for him so he could attend big time college sports events. One southern state appeals to top high school seniors who are residents of the state by offering them a tuition-free education at the state's flagship university. Indeed, the appeal has worked so well that it's difficult for very good but not top students to get in. Moreover, the school significantly raised its ranking (thus, the appeal) simply because the students have better credentials not because the school does anything differently, and the lower tier state schools have increased enrollment because high school seniors can't get in the flagship school anymore. I recall a simpler time, back when my older sisters were in college, and college students traveled to and from campus via train. Train? Yes, train. Freshmen and sophomores weren't allowed to have a car back then, although some broke the rules by hiding the car off-campus. I suppose colleges dropped the restriction to appeal to high school seniors. What appeals to high school seniors seems to vary from year to year.

How much was the ferry to Shelbyville?

To take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on 'em. "Gimme five bees for a quarter," you'd say.

Rayward spent his last nickel on that ticket, and thus didn’t have enough money to buy a red ink editing pen.


As a parent, I'd say "show me the money!" (scholarship).

So that is it. As Marx predicted, there is "left no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous 'cash payment'".

I wonder about the extent to which the recruiters making home visits contribute to the assessment of financial need. After all, they saw first hand how the potential student lives. Also, I bet that prosperous students who are tempted by lower-tuition universities lose some self-perceived high ground when they want to use the argument that Butler is asking for too much money, now that Butler employees saw what was parked in the driveway.

When I go to the store they don't charge me more for milk because of my high income. And the inability to discriminate based on income encourages stores to keep prices low enough to attract a large customer base.

But you know that colleges don't work that way, right? You pay according to a sliding scale based mainly on "perceived need". When my wife was in college (a small, private liberal arts school) she went to the financial aid office and told them (nicely but firmly) that either they charge her the tuition she named, or she's transferring out. They tried to deflect her by offering her loans, but she stayed firm and wouldn't budge from her initial figure. And they agreed. Her net tuition in her last two years was $0 after Pell grants and scholarships were taken into account.

So no, this is nothing like buying milk. With enrollments dropping, the student actually has a great deal of leverage. The marginal cost of retaining and educating an extra student is much less than the tuition that the student pays. Unless a college is run especially badly, I would guess that marginal cost is on the order of a Pell grant. But there are further upsides of retaining a high-achieving student: Her achievements elevate your prestige, she probably exercises a net positive influence on the other students, and you can hit her up for alumni money. I would argue that given all this, colleges are not eager enough to cut deals with students who need a price break and can credibly threaten to leave. But students definitely don't use their leverage.

I’m a bit of an education junkie, by inclination sympathetic to schools, but I stopped donating to my alma mater about 15 years ago when they explicitlly abandoned admission by merit, and began explicit discrimination by race. Things have only declined since.

I know that the marginal budget dollar goes to the worst idea they have, and they have a lot of bad ideas.

What school is that, if I may be so bold as to ask?

It's odd isn't it? I get a regular appeal from an institution that has adopted an admissions policy that is explicitly designed to bias admission against any grandson I might have.

So in the education industry, working with Arnold Klings observations on the incoherence of government subsidizing demand and restricting supply, we have the government subsidizing demand in the form of student loans and arbitrary educational credentials requirements for various occupations, while at the same time restricting supply in the form of predatory publicly-subsidized institutions crowding out competition, costly accreditation requirements that create barriers to entry or at least create sizeable fixed costs, and overhead. And apparently publicly subsidized school loans indirectly finance the care and upkeep of traveling mascot animals. Yes, Kling is correct. This is incoherent from the standpoint of traditional public goods.

So what is the solution?

I have yet to read the new Bryan Caplan opus although from what I have heard about it, he goes in the direction of urging kids to skip college? I don't know, but I would argue that the first line of attack should be upon the education guild and its successful regulatory capture of the accreditation standards. Reading university accreditation standards is a nauseating exercise: the baroque and byzantine overhead requirements, that have everything to do with enriching faculty and administrative staff and nothing to do with student welfare, are barf-inducing at the least. To introduce Amazon-type compeition into the industry, the Department of Education should be removed from the business of recognizing accreditors entirely. At the state level, accreditation requirements should be reviewed and revised to eliminate barriers to entry for barebones, super-low cost educational institutions. New forms of educational services delivery organizations would be able to enter the market and compete with the entrenched rent-seekers. Absent artificial accreditation requirements, I would predict the return of the Bologna-style medieval university in which students hired and paid for instructors directly and the instructor kicked back to the university for overhead. Such disintermediation and free market competition would accrue wide public benefits and greatly reduce the tremendous volume of waste endemic to the current regulatory regime.

I used to read about the rising amount of money spent on university administration and worry. Maybe the professors really don't add value to the majority of campuses...

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